Dear friends and neighbors In a few days, many of our neighbors join us in celebrating Norouz, the first day of Spring and the beginning of new year. Allow me to begin by wishing everyone a very Happy Norouz. The celebration of Norouz, which means “new day” started some three thousand years ago in the Iranian plateau and the wider area united by a culture which respects our mother earth, cherishes our common humanity, and understands our common destiny. Our joint history and civilization are best known not by warriors and military conquers, but by those who have conquered our—and the world’s—hearts and minds: our mystics, our philosophers, our scientist and our poets. Poets like Sa’adi, who portrayed our common destiny 800 years ago:
All human beings are members of one frame
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When time afflicts a limb with pain
The other limbs cannot at rest remain.
If thou feel not for other’s misery
A human being is no name for thee.
In the Muslim part of the world of Norouz, we begin the new year— and this time, a new century—with a short and meaningful prayer:
O, the One who turns hearts and eyes,
O, the One who regulates day and night,
O, the One who transforms situations and conditions,
Transform our condition to one that is best.
The change in the nature—the dawn of spring—and a new year and a new century implies change is possible, necessary, and even inevitable. The fundamental question, though, is how our region, West Asia, can be reshaped. Regional reshaping means we must first identify the principal causes of the problems in our broader region.
To be frank, the current situation in our region is not good. Bloodshed, civil wars, instabilities, and atrocities on the one hand and lagging behind in economic, social and human development on the other are not enviable conditions.
I do not intend to offer a long list of deficiencies. We all know them, yet we rarely look to the roots and causes.
I believe there are three “mega” roots; namely, “international intervention”, “securitization” and “prioritization”.
There can be no question that prolonged and dangerous international interventionsin our region are one of the major reasonsfor existing troubles. Our region has been the subject of geopolitical designs by extra-regional actors during the last five centuries. In recent memory, the U.S. has exacerbated the insecurity and instability of the region more than any other region. As its own figures suggest, some 7 trillion dollars have been wasted on “forever wars” and military interventions in this region alone in less than 2 decades. But American intervention is by no means limited to the military sphere: US coercive economic measures directed against the Iranian people, especially at a time of pandemic, are nothing less than economic warfare. And as we now witness, there has yet to be any difference in following a failed policy of so-called “maximum pressure” between the former and current US presidents.
Because of its relative superiority in military might, the US aims to securitize everything in order to dominate it. Our region has been the prime example. US interference and interventions have been designed to securitize our region, and particularly Iran. Everything is looked at from a security prism, or to be more precise, from a military perspective. The region is viewed as a literal military zone, and the dominant engagement is of a military nature.
This has another bonus for the US and its western partners: dumping all their military hardware. Our 6 southern Persian Gulf neighbors—with the total population of less than 40 million people— absorb one fourth of all arms sold in the word. One spent more than 60 billion dollars on arms last year and another with 1.5 million citizens spent a whopping 22 billion.
But securitization requires fabricated threats and enemies, and also artificial friends and shallow alliances.
Securitization changes regional priorities from addressing the most foundational challenges and real security threats to dealing with fake ones.
Probably the most fundamental motivation for prioritization of fake security threats in our region is to push the Palestinian issue to the back-burner and if possible to simply ignore it. Ending the plight of Palestinians should remain the most long-standing priority for the region. It is a global issue. There can be no peace and stability in the region and the world while Zionist atrocities against Palestinians continue. No one should even for one moment forget or marginalize this human tragedy
Another priority of the region should be to deal with a long list of issues which relate to the daily livelihood of its people.
How we can improve the lot of our peoples, in my view, requires all of us to be willing to replace confrontation with cooperation. This, of course, necessitates a commitment to dialogue and diplomacy.
Unfortunately, the reality has been that some global and regional actors are unable to move beyond their zero-sum mentality and a simple “either-or” view of complex and dynamic regional political and strategic processes. Some actors may borrow their views from extra-regional actors, which results in bold differences and deepening divisions in our region. Others may market their ideas in pseudo-analytical packages in which a mixture of facts and fiction are stirred together to perpetuate conflicts.
But the reality is that nothing is actually wrong in the nature of our region. All crises are man-made, stemming from a combination of artificial constructs and temporal, personal or factional interests. We, the people of the region, can certainly live together peacefully and manage our differences with rationality, collectivity and creativity, as we had for centuries. The key, though, is dialogue and diplomacy.
Iran is eager for dialogue with all its neighbors. We do not need outsiders to shape our own regional destiny. Dialogue is the foundation of diplomacy and—sadly—is desperately lacking in our region.
There’s no alternative to diplomacy. It can serve the interests of all if employed properly and with mutual respect. Iran has consistently promoted regional dialogue and diplomacy in the Persian Gulf as reflected in President Rouhani’s Hormoz Peace Endeavor (HOPE). Iran also strongly believes in dialogue throughout our neighborhood, the subcontinent, Afghanistan, the Caspian Sea, Caucuses, and the Arab world at large.
Through dialogue and diplomacy, we can indeed shape a new region. We can focus on peace and prosperity, we can cooperate on common challenges and synergize to exploit common opportunities, and we can jointly advance regional economic, social and most importantly human development. A new regional space can be formed. But for this, we need a new cognitive foundation and diplomacy has to be taken more seriously.
Do not subscribe to the dangerous framing that Iran is a “regional threat”. The first butcher who sold this dangerous canard to regional and global actors was Saddam Hussein. And when Saddam turned his guns against his financiers, Bibi Netanyahu took the mantle—with exactly the same end. Netanyahu however has been the most persistent boy who has been crying wolf for nearly 30 years. These two criminal, have together killed more Arabs than anyone. Those who bought Saddam sales pitch need to learn that lesson before Netanyahu turns the wealth he is planning to usurp from them not just to kill and maim Palestinians, Syrians and the Lebanese, but his very new buddies in the Persian Gulf. Mark my words.
But Iran has no interest or design—or indeed need—for anyone’s wealth or territorial proximity to its foes. Iran only needs peace in its own neighborhood. Iran will always remain—as it has for the past 3000+ years—a pilar of peace and a responsible regional player and is prepared to take any step that can make our region more peaceful, stable, prosperous, and secure.
In conclusion, I wish to reaffirm our commitment to dialogue and diplomacy. I wish you all a Very Happy New Year, and a successful Tehran Dialogue Forum. Thanks to all the friends, especially neighbors, and to my IPIS colleagues for all their efforts in that regard.
March 16, 2021
Click here to watch the video of this speech on YouTube